Portsmouth University to Pay Over £400,000 to Indian Lecturer Who Faced Race Discrimination During Selection Process

In Dr Kajal Sharma v University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth University will have to pay over £400,000 to an Indian lecturer. This follows the employment tribunal ruling the lecturer faced race discrimination and victimisation during her role and reapplication for it. Depending on the final calculations of her pension, the final figure could increase.

Below, we examine the facts that led to the claim and the employment tribunal’s judgment. If you have experienced race discrimination or victimisation and want to claim compensation, contact Redmans Solicitors now. We are employment law specialists and could assess your eligibility to make a claim.

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The Facts in Dr Kajal Sharma v University of Portsmouth

Portsmouth University Fail to Reappoint Indian Lecturer

Dr Kajal Sharma (“The Claimant”) began working for Portsmouth University (“The Respondent”) on 1 January 2016. She was appointed Associate Head for Organisational Studies and Human Resources Management until 31 December 2020. Being an Indian woman, the lecturer was a member of the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) group.

As the Indian lecturer’s appointment drew to an end, her position was advertised, and she reapplied for it. She was one of two candidates shortlisted; however, her application was unsuccessful, and another colleague, Mrs Collier, was given the role. 

One of the panel believed Dr Kajal Sharma was best suited, but the others, including her line manager Professor Gary Rees, didn’t agree. This left her very unhappy, leading to her asking for feedback, which she didn’t receive. 

A Grievance is Raised

On 19 November 2020, she raised a grievance, citing that her race was a factor in her unsuccessful reappointment. She explained Professor Rees had treated her less favourably than white individuals in her application and throughout her appointment.

For example, in January 2016, Professor Rees asked her to work despite travelling to India for the passing of her father. Here, the tribunal compared her bereavement leave to that of a white colleague. There, the Professor shared his condolences and offered to make teaching arrangements.

Furthermore, in February 2017, Portsmouth University failed to support her when her infant son was critically ill. This time, the tribunal discussed how white colleagues had received support from the Professor, which the Indian lecturer didn’t.

Additionally, during her 2019 performance development review, Professor Rees discouraged her from pursuing an advanced qualification. Comparatively, the tribunal learned the Professor had helped a white colleague looking to do the same.

Finally, she addressed information concerning the reappointment of senior management that she’d received following a request to Portsmouth University. This included the number of individuals in senior positions who’d reapplied and been reappointed for their roles. It also included how many BAME candidates had reapplied and been reappointed and how many were BAME females.

From this information, the lecturer stated that 12 individuals in senior roles had reapplied for their positions since 2018. Of those, 11 were reappointed, and none were BAME candidates. The tribunal stated that the lecturer could have expected to be reappointed since most senior management were. 

On reflection, the tribunal discussed how the successful candidate had no experience in the role, whereas the lecturer had five years. However, despite both interviewing well, the one appointed was white, but Dr Kajal Sharma was Asian.

The Grievance is Dismissed by Portsmouth University

Following delays with the grievance, the lecturer applied for early conciliation through ACAS before claiming to a tribunal on 11 March 2021. Then, on 18 March, Portsmouth University informed her that her grievance was unsuccessful. She appealed the decision on 3 September, but this was also found to be unsuccessful on 23 March 2022. As a result, she continued pursuing her claims.

The Employment Tribunal’s Judgment

The employment tribunal began by addressing the alarming statistics concerning the reappointment of white senior academics compared to BAME comparators. Whilst only 8% of white individuals hadn’t been reappointed in their positions, 100% of the BAME candidates weren’t. As such, they felt Portsmouth University should’ve questioned Dr Kajal Sharma’s unsuccessful reappointment rather than her querying it herself.

Moreover, they believed the University should have looked for a valid explanation as to why the lecturer wasn’t reappointed. Failure to do so showed a distinct shortcoming of the University’s Equality policy.

Following this, the employment tribunal looked at the treatment the lecturer had experienced during her tenure. From her bereavement leave to looking after her child and pursuing an advanced qualification, they felt Professor Rees had treated her differently. They explained this resulted from his ‘subconscious bias’, as white colleagues had been treated better.

The tribunal added that this influenced his decision not to reappoint her, ruling the lecturer had faced race discrimination. Subsequently, she won her race discrimination and victimisation claims, meaning Portsmouth University must pay her in excess of £400,000.

Contact us today if you believe you’ve faced similar circumstances but don’t know how to proceed. Redmans Solicitors are employment law specialists and could assess your case before advising on your possible next steps. What’s more, we offer various funding options to help meet each individual’s needs.

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